Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Maria Conlon-McKenna's Rebel Sisters.
Grace, Muriel, and Nellie Gifford weren't brought up to be revolutionaries. They were raised in the upper crust of Ireland's society. Respectable and educated, they enjoyed privileges beyond those of many in their country. And yet all three were drawn into the Rising. Nellie, schooled in Domestic Economy, takes up arms as part of the Citizens Army while Grace, an artist, and Muriel, a nurse, are both drawn in after falling for leaders of the Rising itself.
Theirs is a true story, a story of three sisters who played significant roles in Ireland's modern history.
I knew literally nothing about the Easter Rising. In fact, it was Kate Kerrigan's story in Fall of Poppies that really alerted me to the story. And it's huge! A massive story, in fact, and yet it gets overshadowed by WWI, especially for those of us here in the States.
What's so fascinating about this story is that, as I believe the author shows through the opening chapters, these sisters were never the kind of people anyone would expect to take part in an effort like this. Certainly their mother never expected they would. As the author's note states in the end of the novel, the relationship between mother and daughters was strained (to say the least) as a result.
And while the book focuses specifically on Grace, Muriel, and Nellie, the Gifford family sported more rebels than them. We meet, for example, their sister Sydney as well. She was a journalist who famously wrote under the name John Brennan and was also a member of the Daughters of Ireland. Why the book's focus is limited to the other three is somewhat confusing considering Sydney was certainly as involved as the other three. (Chapters are narrated from the perspectives of Muriel, Grace, Nellie, and occasionally their mother.)
I did have a bit of a hard time getting into Rebel Sisters. The book kicks off in 1901, obviously setting the scene and introducing the reader to the characters, the family, and even the politics leading up to the 1916 Rising. But the coverage of years 1901-1913 in particular are so choppy that I found it hard to get truly taken in by the story.
Perhaps, though, the mistake was mine in assuming this was a story of the Rising itself. It's not. This is a story about the Gifford sisters. The book is two-thirds through before we even hit 1916 at all. Understandably, in writing Nellie, Grace, and Muriel's stories, one cannot ignore their childhood or upbringing. The death of Queen Victoria, the death of their own brother, their educations... all of this is appropriate context for their participation in the Rising. I can imagine it may even have been difficult to choose exactly what to highlight and when to start in order to give the reader a full picture of these extraordinary women! Knowing that, and knowing that anyone's biography - even a fictionalized one - can fill volumes, I still wanted more of a linear narrative than Conlon-McKenna provided here. I wanted to be swallowed up in the Giffords' story rather than feeling as though I was hopping through a highlight reel.
To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Marita Conlon-McKenna you can visit her website here.